Social media breaking stereotypes, inspiring women in sports: The Shweta Shahi story
As Shweta Shahi, the young Rugby sensation from Nalanda lodges the ball in the opposition’s try zone after an impressive 40-yard sprint, she is overcome with an overwhelming sense of joy at the stage she stands at today. Shweta has been invited to attend a World Rugby meeting aimed at accelerating the global development of women in rugby. A known name in the domestic circuit, Shweta is considered as a prodigy amongst her peers, a trailblazer of sorts who’s made a path for her own, where there wasn’t any. However, despite her recurrent success at the domestic level, Shweta’s achievements remained enveloped in obscurity until a recent campaign by The Quint/ a leading media house propelled her to gain the recognition her feats command.
Patriarchy runs deep in the Indian mindset and manifests itself in diverse forms for women from different walks of life. Internet, especially social media over the years has emerged as one of the biggest equalizers in India, driving empowerment for women by breaking down barriers and building bridges that support greater education, better health, career advancement, and stronger community. Shweta's story is one of the sheer power of social media to bring alive one's wildest of dreams combined with a tinge of curiosity and a whole of hard work and dedication.
Shahi was born to a farmer father, Sujit Kumar Shahi and Champa Devi, a homemaker. She has an elder sister and three brothers. When Shweta was asked if she would like to play rugby, it was the first time she had heard the word. Spotted at a state level event by Bihar's rugby secretary, she taught herself the alien sport by watching videos on social media platforms like Facebook and Youtube. So much was her attraction towards the sport that she would immerse herself in rugby tutorial videos on Facebook, sometimes even trying to copy certain antics of the player on screen. She started training for the sport with her father, who's supported her unconditionally in her journey, even going against the wishes of the entire family and their village in Shweta's quest to achieve greatness. Shweta, today, has represented India in multiple global competitions and has 3 international championships under her belt.
While most village girls her age are married, Shahi has no such plans and is instead focused on inspiring girls to take up sports in villages near her. She conducts training camps and coaches children from neighbouring villages in Rugby. Six girls who've coached under Shweta are already performing in major competitions at the national level.
As Shweta gets ready to vote for the first time in the upcoming General Elections, she wants the government to focus more on contributing more towards sports especially for girls, a thought resonated by a majority of women surveyed as part of the nationwide survey conducted by Lokniti-CSDS under 'Me The Change' campaign for The Quint. She envisions a future wherein there are adequate facilities across the country to encourage youngsters like her to be identified and trained under professionals so that millions of girls can adopt sports as a way of life and as a means of empowerment.